Vélez Vega confirmed, becomes first woman to lead DTOP
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
The Puerto Rico Senate on Thursday confirmed Eileen Vélez Vega, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Transportation and Public Works, making her the first woman to lead the agency.
During the ordinary session, Senate Vice President Marially González Huertas read the positive report from the upper chamber’s Appointment Committee, which highlighted the nominee’s distinguished academic preparation and professional experience, her being a cancer survivor, and the support Vélez Vega, an engineer, received from professional associations, institutions of higher education, and 24 mayors, including Sabana Grande Mayor Marcos Valentín Flores, who was present on the Senate floor.
Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago said that although she did not doubt that Vélez Vega is capable of performing in the role, the nominee during a public hearing did not answer questions involving the cost and procedures of operation of the HMS Ferries-Maritime Transportation Authority public-private agreement.
Furthermore, the Puerto Rican Independence Party senator said, she couldn’t vote “for a nominee who has not taken time from her schedule, has not put forth the energy to conduct the exercise of listening to the people of Vieques and Culebra first.”
Sen. Ana Irma Rivera Lassen, meanwhile, also faulted Vélez Vega for not responding to the Vieques and Culebra maritime transportation issue.
She then said that the Citizens Victory Movement delegation, of which Sen. Rafael Bernabe Riefkohl is the other member, would vote against Vélez Vega’s nomination because she “didn’t provide a clear vision on how to deal with the excessive use of motor vehicles and how they harm the environment.”
Popular Democratic Party Sen. Ramón Luis Nieves said Vélez Vega has proven herself to be open to working hard and has “genuine commitment” in what he considered “one of the most important appointments of the executive branch.”
New Progressive Party Sen. Henry Neumann Zayas, meanwhile, highlighted Vélez Vega’s performance working as an engineer in the U.S. Army in a “diaphanous” manner.
“She recognizes that her job is out there, providing service to the mayors, to provide explanations, which are already paying off,” Neumann Zayas said. “She is well aware of her responsibilities and how to carry out her duties.”
For his part, independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot said Vélez Vega’s appointment “brought hope to see a person prepared to serve the public.”
Other nominees confirmed on Thursday were Consumer Affairs Secretary Edan Rivera, Child Support Administration chief Terilyn Sastre Fuente, Comprehensive Cancer Center board of directors member Dr. Víctor J. Vázquez Rodríguez, and Automobile Accident Compensation Administration board of directors member Walter Alomar Jiménez.